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Introduction

Pali is known mainly as the language of Theravada Buddhism. The word Pili1) means "text", and the language is "the language of the texts". Very little is known about its origin. We do not know where it was spoken or if it originally was a spoken language at all. The ancient Ceylonese tradition says that the Buddha himself spoke Magadhi and that this language was identical with Pali. The Buddha was born in Kapilavastu (perhaps 563 BC), a town in Nepal, and he spent most of his time in the kingdoms of Migadha, KoAala, Vatsa and Vrji, all of them close to Ganges. It is therefore quite probable that he spoke MagadhT and perhaps other middle Indian dialects as well. We know, however, that Magadhi, although a related dialect, differed from Pali in many respects, and the origins of Pali are now usually sought in other parts of North India. It is not known, whether the Buddhist doctrine ever was written down in Migadhi. The art of writing was not used until centuries after the death of the Buddha. However this may be, we know for certain, that the Buddhist canonical literature has been preserved in Ceylon, written in the Pali language, and that this language for centuries remained the language used by the community of monks: commentaries and Buddhist treatises were written in Pali during centuries, and even a number of historical works. How and when the language came to Ceylon is not known: it must have been a north Indian language, and it may have been introduced into Ceylon in connection with some Buddhist missionary activity there. In fact, chronicles tell us that the famous king Asoka (about 274-234 BC) sent his son Mahinda on a mission of this type.